Availability.

I love when technology is used for something sensible. I’m not talking about giving us the ability to watch videos of people falling down on the ice or lending voice to anonymous rage fests on social media. No, I’m talking about technology that makes our life just a little bit easier without taking over the situation completely. You know, the stuff that actually helps us.

My husband and I ventured over to “Fashion Outlets of Chicago”, a mall situated near O’Hare. As the name suggests, this mall is loaded with stores and shops of an outlet and bargain basement nature. Amongst the gaiety is situated a food court. When I ordered a “diet pop”, a perfectly natural request in the Midwest, the clerk laughed out loud and proceeded to say “pop” in unnatural tones. Apparently I was on the wrong side of town for a diet pop.

I’m digressing.

To initiate our venture to “Fashion Outlets of Chicago” we drove the car. It’s always a bit of pain driving in the city, especially in the winter when everyone forgets how an automobile works, how roads work, and how various other necessities of a motorized society works, but nevertheless I ventured us over to the parking garage attached to the “Fashion Outlets of Chicago”.

I was pleasantly surprised with the technology in use in the parking garage.

  1. Electronic signs indicated how many spots were open on any of the multiple levels of the garage
  2. LED lights over each spot showed red or green indicating the availability of the parking spot, and these lights were easily seen from all over the garage
  3. Displays at the end of each row displayed the number of open spots per row, letting you know if you should venture down a row or not looking for an available parking space.

This practical use of technology made whipping the Jeep Cherokee around this garage just a little more pleasant than it otherwise would have been. The stress of parking was reduced just enough to make the “Fashion Outlets of Chicago” a bit more pleasant of an experience.

I hope this parking technology catches on elsewhere. It’s the little things that make a difference.

Simplicity.

This is my alarm clock.

After spending time on and off my nightstand for the past weeks and months I’ve decided that it belongs on my nightstand.

This alarm clock, purchased during my senior year of high school, has worked reliably since 1986. It keeps time as well as the power grid will allow it, it can tune in both AM and FM radio stations using the antenna built into the power cable and it’s simple to set and easy to synchronize to an atomic clock.

My mid-1980s vintage General Electric alarm clock doesn’t require updates, doesn’t need to reboot, and uses LED digits that do not blind me in the middle of the night. I can’t talk to it and it doesn’t talk to me, but it does wake me up every morning with the sounds of NewsRadio WBBM.

I have flirted with other alarm clocks, especially over the past year or two. An Alexa Dot that featured a round face, the eerie laugh of Alexa in the middle of the night, and a camera pointed at my slumbering visage. I most recently tried a Lenovo Smart Clock, powered by Google Assistant. Using a miniaturized version of the Google Assistant software found on the Google Nest Home Hub, it likes to update in the middle of the night and shine LED backlighting on my eyes. Sometimes I wake up with a sunburn.

Luckily, I bought it during the holidays for over 50% off. I didn’t enjoy it as much as I thought I would.

After swapping between my old reliable GE and the Lenovo for the past week I’ve settled with sticking with the tried and true. The red digits make no impression in the darkened room when we’re sleeping and the alarm is always on time.

Sometimes you just have to keep it simple.

Privacy.

Anything I share anywhere online I do so knowing that any shred of this information could be made public at any time. Every document I save, every tweet I type, and of course every blog entry I write will have an infinite shelf life. When I type anything into a network connected computer it is being released to the wild. It may remain locked up on a hard drive or it could appear on the front page of some trashy website, but when I share it, that choice is no longer mine. I know this, and I’ve known this all of my technological life, ever since the first time I typed “Hi!” to my modem connected cousin in a chat room in 1985 using a Commodore 64, a modem, and GEnie (an ‘information sharing’ service from that era).

According to Reuters, Apple dropped plans for full end-to-end encryption of iPhone (and presumably other iOS-based device) backups after receiving complaints from the FBI. The FBI countered fully encrypting backups would harm any investigations.

Apple touts itself as a “privacy first” company and this news greatly disappoints me. However, I’m not completely taken by surprise by this.

Ever since 9/11, when the United States of America became fear-based, paranoid country of citizens, the government has rapidly eroded citizens’ privacy rights, all in the name of patriotism and safety. In the guise of “going after the bad guys”, government agencies, some out in the open and many behind closed doors, want to know anything and everything about every one of its citizens, whether you’re doing anything nefarious or not. Books have been published about this, television documentaries have shared this, movies have been made, there’s plenty of evidence out there. The U.S. Government feels they have a right to anything and everything you’re doing. Encryption prevents them from gathering this information. The Government is fearful of another attack akin to 9/11, not because of casualties or destruction, but rather because it would compromise the motto of “The Greatest Country in the World”. Another attack like that fateful day in 2001 would embarrass the Government and they’re going to do everything they can to prevent it from happening again.

“But I have nothing to hide!”. I hear this often when engaging others in a conversation along about this subject and my counterpoint is always two part: 1. It should be “But I have nothing to hide, yet!” and 2. Why don’t we just get rid of freedom of speech because perhaps “You have nothing to say”.

Aside from building your own cloud and your own ecosystem and your own encryption and the like, I still maintain Apple’s devices and ecosystems are still the safest option out there for Joe Schmoe and friends type users. This is why my family continues to invest in Apple products. Granted, today’s revelations are disappointing, and if it’s indicative of a trend I may consider building my own data fortress (because I can), but I still believe when it comes to privacy, Apple is still the best consumer choice in town.

And if you don’t want anyone accessing it, don’t put it on a computer to begin with.

4683.

I don’t know the people in this photo. This is a screen cap from a 1991 video about EPCOT Center, the second theme part to open up at Walt Disney World in Florida.

The reason I snapped this photo is because of the IBM 4683 Point of Sale terminal in the foreground. When my husband and I visited Disney in 1997 I noticed these terminals, and they’re younger siblings the 4693, 4694, and 4695 scattered all over the parks. This was not surprising, you would find IBM cash registers like this anywhere back in the day.

The IBM 4683 was the first cash register made by IBM that used fairly standard PC components, though many of the peripherals were connected through proprietary connectors. When they first came out in the late 1980s they ran on an operating system called 4680 OS which was based on FlexDOS. Like MS-DOS (which folks were running on their PCs at the time), FlexDOS was a PC-based variant that included special multitasking powers. Typically, in modern installations, there’d be two IBM PCs running in the store somewhere powering the IBM 4683 terminals you’d see at customer checkout stands.

I had a brief stint tailoring point of sale software for the IBM 4683s running General Sales Application, which was the primary software package used in non-grocery environments back in the day. It’d probably be surprising to younger software developers, but the code we wrote was in BASIC. Yes, the same commands that you entered into your PC were used on these terminals.

10 PRINT "Hello!"
20 GOTO 10

Looking back it’s amazing what we could do with the IBM 4683 given that onboard memory was still measured in kilobytes and they didn’t have a hard drive. The later IBM 4684 was more robust and could operate as a stand alone register. That’s when the DOS variant of retail software was introduced and it was called “Retail Application/PC”. I did a little work on that as well.

When I worked at Hills Department Store over one holiday season the store was converted from older NCR 255s (installed in 1978) to the IBM 4680 GSA system. Our registers looked identical to the one pictured at EPCOT Center, but we still didn’t get scanning. We’d enter the Department, SKU, Quantity (if more than one), and price of each item. Contrary to modern belief, we did not key in the UPC numbers from the back of the item’s packaging. The registers didn’t know the price back then, but they did know if the price was too low or too high for that particular department. The limited memory onboard the registers didn’t have enough room to know the price of individual items but it did know the range of the entire department the item belonged to.

It’s been years since I’ve regaled a modern times cashier with this information when they roll their eyes because an item won’t scan.

It wasn’t too long ago that I saw an IBM 4683 still out in the wild. It might have been in Canada and it was pressed into service with newer equipment. It seemed to be keeping up with the Joneses.

Let It Whip.

In 1983 my Dad decided to get a little bit ahead of the technology curve and purchased a VHS VCR for our 19-inch television. The TV was a vintage 1976 Zenith set that sat on the bookshelf in the Family Room and was our main television. It would be a few years before cable television snaked its way out our road from town, so we relied on a rooftop antenna with a motorized rotor that allowed us to tune in various stations. We generally stayed with the “basic four” of the era, NBC, CBS, ABC, and PBS. However, living close to Lake Ontario I could get that antenna on the roof swinging around and we also received CKWS from Kingston (CBC) and CJOH from Ottawa (CTV) clear as a bell. Once in a while I could tune in more distant Rochester and for some reason during one particular thunderstorm I flung the antenna around enough and I could grab the NBC station out of Orlando, Florida for a few moments.

The VHS VCR was made by General Electric, could handle both VHF and UHF channels, and looked a lot like this guy, albeit with a cover that flipped down over the channel selector on the right.

It was just this evening that I discovered Panasonic actually made this VCR for General Electric. I never knew that while growing up, but I can tell you the very first show I successfully recorded on it was the premiere of “Jennifer Slept Here” starring Ann Jillian.

There were no video rental places in town yet, but our local Rite Aid offered video rentals for $0.49 (49 cents) a night. I discovered a video featuring “Stars On 45”, the studio musicians that made medleys of older songs to a relentless four-on-the-floor beat-clap-beat-clap rhythm track, occasionally interrupted by Stars On 45 Jingles and interludes.

The Stars On 45
Keeps on turnin’
In your mind
But we can work it out
Remember ‘Twist and Shout’
You still don’t tell me why
With no reply..y…y…y

The video had none of the singers that were on the tracks so popular on the radio at the time, but was rather a one-off stage performance that featured the famous medleys and a whole bunch of other songs.

I remember my sister moaning and groaning when I decided to monopolize the only television in the house to watch the video, so I decided to wait until the next day, while Mom and Dad were at work and she was off doing whatever she did after school.

Towards the end of the performance the singers did a mash-up of Devo’s “Whip It” and The Dazz Band’s “Let It Whip” with a bunch of dancers moving along in very 1980s choreography. Chains and batons were flung around, people moved seductively, feathered hair waved.

When the three (at the time) scantily dressed guys came out I discovered a wonderful feature of the new General Electric VHS VCR made by Panasonic.

It had a PAUSE button.

My sophomore year had just kicked off, I had all these wild thoughts going on in my head, whereas I just knew I was suppose to be pausing on the (at the time) scantily dressed girls but I was really grooving on pausing on the (at the time) scantily dress guys.

Worried someone would come home while the VCR was on PAUSE, I quickly finished the video. I then decided to Be Kind and Rewind and then went up to my green painted bedroom with blue, green, and black plaid carpet and decided to think about what I just PAUSEd about.

I’ll let your imagination fill in the details that could evoke a blush.

While I was working today I found myself singing “Let It Whip / Whip It, Whip It Good” and realized it was from this video I hadn’t seen in 37 years. I was happy to find it on YouTube.

No need to PAUSE, I’m not a sophomore in high school.

A New Era.

Microsoft ended Extended Support for Windows 7 yesterday. This means if your computer is still running Windows 7 you will no longer receive updates for the once popular operating system.

As of two months ago, 28% of traditional PCs were still running Windows 7.

It seems like it was just yesterday that I was watching the “Windows 7 Host Your Own Launch Party” video, introducing what was to be an incremental upgrade to Windows. The goal was to make the masses forget Windows Vista as quickly as possible.

Just today I’ve seen several computers running Windows 7. Folks fell in love with the operating system and have been hesitant to switch away. After all, why get rid of something that works?

Even folks are rapidly moving toward a “mobile first” platform when it comes to personal technology, there are still plenty of PCs around, especially in business.

I guess it’s beyond time for businesses to make the decision, Windows 10, Linux, or something from Apple.

I don’t think there’ll be any Launch Party Guide Videos to help users make the transition.

Technology.

I talk a bit about how sometimes it feels like advances in technology are basically destroying our society as we know it. My primary belief to support this is because technology is advancing faster than society’s capacity to handle this growth. The population hasn’t evolved quickly enough to keep up with the new technology being released to the masses.

This being said, I am fully amazed and appreciative of the fact that I am able to watch the latest NASA spacewalk at the International Space Station in real-time from my desk at work on a second monitor while writing code. The signal is coming from over 350,000 kilometers away, being pushed to Twitter and Periscope and instantly available on a computer the size of a 1/3 of a pizza box but more powerful than anything that was even dreamed of when we first started exploring Space.

This helps me maintain my sanity and faith in humanity. We’ll get through this and the disparity around the technology-people connection will eventually balance out (though it’s taking way too long).

We need to move forward. We have a whole big Universe to explore.

Features.

In the earlier days of the World Wide Web we’d all have our pages set to a “home page” or “start page”, which was usually a portal that included little snippets of information. You’d find things like the weather, the latest news headlines, and updates from your favorite Geocities sites.

Web browsers today tend to steer us toward a blank or search page upon initial load in today’s Modern World. Apple in particular would rather we use apps to garner the information we used to grab through a web portal.

At work this morning I fired up Google Chrome, since that seems to be the dominate choice for web browser at the company I work for and since I write applications, including web applications, as my livelihood I should probably use the browser everyone else is using, and I went to Google News. It hearkens back to the old style “Start Page” quite a bit with headlines, local weather, and a couple of other little bits of information one would presumably like to see at the beginning of the day.

Two things stuck out at me this morning.

Not only does the Google News page have a section dedicated to checking the facts, but they also let one choose their default temperature of Celsius, Fahrenheit, or Kelvin.

Metric goodness is always appreciated. Notice I have it on Fahrenheit at the moment. I’m switching it to Celsius today.

Kres Mersky.

It’s amazing what runs through my mind when I’m writing code at work. When I get into my “awesome development zone”, that wonderful place where the code just flows from my fingers without an error or bug to be found, my mind goes into this multi-threaded mode where I’m writing amazing software without really thinking about it and daydreaming about something completely unrelated and random.

Today my brain started thinking about the 1970s television series, “The New Adventures of Wonder Woman”. Everyone is familiar with the Lynda Carter led show, and I specifically thinking about some of the music cues in a couple of the second season episodes before they went full-tilt disco with the “stepping” disco beat theme song.

Not only was the “transformation music” of the second season consistently awesome, there were other music cues that were quite fun. In the episode “The Pied Piper”, Martin Mull plays an evil flute player named Hamlin Rule has hypnotizes women, including Jan Plumb, to do his evil bidding. The audio processing on his flute tracks was super groovy, even for the 1970s, and one would think it would be confined to when he played the flute.

But no! There’s a brief five to ten second interval in the later episode, “Seance of Terror”, which features Bobby Brady/Mike Lookinland’s younger brother Todd Lookinland as a kid with psychic and telekinetic powers, who is being cared for by his evil aunt and uncle. Said relations want to sabotage peace talks and guarantee ongoing border wars for the country Tarmania, securing funding for the meanies that hired them.

I can vividly recall watching this episode in the spring of 1978 on my Mom and Dad’s 19-inch Zenith in the Family Room. I remember noticing the groovy flute music cue back then, and here we are 42 years later and I’m still talking about it.

I remember liking the actress that played “Aunt Theodora”, the mean aunt to Todd Lookinland, “Matt”. She was played by Kres Mersky. I really liked her speaking voice. When working the room with the ambassadors, she had such a classy presence, even though we all knew she was evil. There was a certain je ne sais quoi about the way she carried herself and I found it entrancing. It was perfect for the role, even though it was Bobby Brady’s brother that had the special powers.

I remember Ms. Mersky being on various shows in the 70s and 80s; she seemed like she was everywhere, but looking at her IMDB profile she wasn’t on as many shows as I had thought. I think I might have been confusing her with Lynnie Greene, who starred in the one season “On Our Own” the same year, and who also went on to play “Young Dorothy” on “The Golden Girls”.

Anyways, I got to thinking about Ms. Mersky again, she also reminded me of a woman I worked with back in my days at Digital Equipment Corporation, so I decided to look her up.

I found this website from 2010 around a play she wrote and starred in, “The Life And Times of A. Einstein”. It’s a one woman show about the life of Albert Einstein as seen through the eyes of his secretary Ellen.

Ms. Mersky’s latest entry on her IMDB entry is a short called “Rope” from 2008. It’s hard to search for a short called “Rope” on Google, but perhaps I’ll eventually find something further.

According to her bio, Ms. Mersky was 28 years old when she played Aunt Theodora on “Wonder Woman”. (My how the looks of 28 year old have changed in 42 years!). I found her personal website, but it looks like it hasn’t been updated in a number of years.

Nevertheless, I hope she is well and enjoying life and doing what she loves. I know seeing her today when I watched the entire Wonder Woman episode of “Seance of Terror” made my smile.

Now if she could have done something about Diana’s disguise wig.

Photo downloaded from wonderland-site.com. If you watch this episode, you’ll notice the housekeeper above doubles as an ambassador wearing sunglasses at the very beginning of the episode.

News.

One of my goals in this New Year is to eliminate much of the cruft that is nipping at my personal bandwidth. The vast majority of this extra noise is of my own doing; I willingly use apps like Reddit, Twitter, and Facebook to feed my need for information.

The thing is, it isn’t always good information.

I’ve always fallen back on the stance that I maintain a Facebook account to keep up with what’s happening with friends and family back East. I chat with other pilots, read about a geeky things in geeky groups, and follow people I don’t know but would like to meet in person someday. I’m intelligent enough to discard all the political misinformation and the like, but discarding the “keep scrolling!” hooks takes bandwidth and quite frankly, my bandwidth is more valuable than that.

I’ve been delving deeper into Apple News. I’m finding that I can keep tabs with what’s happening in the world through this fairly simple to use app and I’m noticing Siri’s AI is making things better on a daily basis. After consistently using Apple News for the past couple of weeks and providing the app feedback, what I like, what I don’t like, etc., I’m finding it’s giving me news I’m looking for. I will say News is not validating my viewpoint, there were a few articles highlighted today that wanted to make my blood pressure go up, but that’s a good thing. There’s too much tendency for apps to reinforce silos and narrow viewpoints. Apple News doesn’t feel like it’s doing that.

One of the best thing about using Apple News is that it doesn’t automatically show comments to articles. If you’ve ever dealt into the comments section on The Washington Post or New York Times, you know that it’s a dismal and hopefully inaccurate view on where society it is today. There’s no way of telling whether the author of a comment is a citizen, a human, a bad actor, or a bot. And as long as the engagement keeps ticking up the ad revenue for these outlets, we’re never going to know this. So I find it’s best just to stay away from the Peanut Gallery Commentary. That’s what Twitter is for.

If you haven’t given Apple News a try I suggest giving it a whirl. Try it out for a week or two, give it valid feedback with what stories you like and what stories you’re not interested in.

You might enjoy what you read.